First posted on 01 March 2008. Last updated on 17 July 2010.
Streko-Graphics is a Canadian based game development studio founded in 2001 by a small group of enthusiastic gamers who share a great passion for adventure and role-playing games. Despite its size, Streko-Graphics has gained much recognition in the game industry for its works as the developer of Aura: Fate of the Ages and Aura 2: The Sacred Rings. Since their releases in 2004 and 2007 (respectively), both games have earned high praises from fans and critics. Dead Reefs is the latest adventure game released by Streko-Graphics and, like the Aura series, has whetted the appetites of many adventure game fans longing for the next game from the developer.
We are privileged to have an opportunity to interview Evgeniy Lebed, the developer of Dead Reefs and the Aura series at Streko-Graphics, about the company and its projects. In the interview, Lebed speaks of the company's growth as a game developer, the business challenges facing the current marketplace, the development of Dead Reefs, and what adventure gamers can expect from its latest game and the company in the future.
- What past adventure games influenced you most as a game developer? Why?
- My favorite adventure game series of all type is King's Quest. I have played them since I was old enough to turn on a computer.
- What prior experiences did you have in the game industry prior to working at Streko-Graphics?
- Streko-Graphics is the first company that I have worked for in the game industry.
- Who were the original founders of Streko-Graphics? In the early years, what was your greatest challenge in running a new, small development studio?
- My friend and colleague, Sergey Nartovitch was the original founder of Streko-Graphics. One of the challenges we had in the early days was communication; we have a team of artists and animators working for us in Russia and at first communication across the two continents was a major challenge.
- How long was each game of the Aura series (Aura: Fate of the Ages and Aura 2: The Sacred Rings) in development? How big was the development team for each game? How similar or different (with examples) was your original vision compared to the final release?
- Aura: Fate of the Ages was in development for about 9 months, while the second one, Aura: The Sacred Rings was in development for about 2 years. Probably the reason that the second one took so much longer is because we were working a lot more closely with our publisher, and constantly adapting to their requests. One thing that were constantly changing and improving is the video cut scenes.
And as for our development team, we have 20 people working for us at Streko Graphics.
- What experiences did you gain from the development of the Aura series that benefited the development of Dead Reefs?
- Firstly we have learned to use the game engine Virtools much better (Aura: The Sacred Rings was made on Virtools). And of course practice makes perfect; in my opinion the 3D models in Dead Reefs had a significantly higher quality than those in Aura. Also we have learned to work much better as a team. Most of the people that worked on Aura have also worked on Dead Reefs, so by knowing each other's work styles and patterns we have learned to increase our productivity.
- Both Aura 2: The Sacred Rings and Dead Reefs used the Virtools 3D engine licensed from Dassault Systèmes. What other development platforms were initially considered but subsequently rejected? Why was Virtools chosen?
- For our first major project, Aura: Fate of the Ages, we built our own game engine, and used it through the entire development process. But for the next one, Aura: The Sacred Rings, we decided to try something else – Virtools. Virtools offered a very dynamical environment and we decided to stick with it. For more information on our development process on Virtools, you can see my Developer Diary here: http://www.gameboomers.com/Developers%20Diaries/AuraSacredRingsDD.htm
- What was the greatest challenge the development team faced during the development of Dead Reefs?
- One of the biggest challenges we had in the development of Dead Reefs was making the leap from 2D to 3D. As you can recall, both the Aura games were 2D games. In Dead Reefs we have tried to make a completely 3D dimensional environment that gives the player the possibility to walk wherever he wants and to explore as much as possible. In Aura we had a 2D, flat background. In Dead Reefs we got rid of that and made a completely 3D environment.
- What prior research was done for Dead Reefs to increase the historic authenticity of the game's story (set in the early 1720s somewhere in the North Atlantic)?
- The story was not meant to be based on some pre-existing island. But nevertheless, it is a well-known fact that pirates (in one form or the other) existed in the North Atlantic at that time period. We just came up with a story that we thought would be entertaining, without too much historical relevance.
- For the English version of Dead Reefs, from where were the voice actors recruited? The game was also available in several other languages. How did the development team handle the different regionalization of the game?
- All of the voice actors were recruited by our publisher, The Adventure Company. We provided them with the scripts and they did all the acting and recording. Then we incorporated the different sound files into the game. This includes the sound files in other languages. As you can imagine, we had to adjust some of the videos to synchronies the sound with the lip-sync for the different languages. Other than that, the game itself didn't really involve other aspects that couldn't be transferred from one language to another.
- A criticism of Dead Reefs has been its antiquated control system that uses keyboard (no mouse) only for navigation, reminiscent of that in the original Alone in the Dark or Resident Evil. How is the decision made to use only the keyboard? Why is the mouse or gamepad (gamepad may particularly help to address the control issue) not supported?
- You are right; we have decided to use only the keyboard as the primary means of controls and navigation. We have attempted several different options, including the usual keyboard-and-mouse combination, but at the end we have decided to stick with just the keyboard. One major deciding factor in this issue is the complexity of the game engine. It would have been a lot more work for us to incorporate the mouse into the control system, and we have decided that it was not worth it. Never-the-less, there are still other controller options available. Pinnacle Game Controllers now offers a solution for those hard-core gamers who are more used to their x-box type of controllers rather than the standard keyboard. Visit the site www.pinnaclegameprofiler.com to learn how you can play Dead Reefs through just about any type of controller.
- A lot of thoughts (by way of hints) have been put into the puzzles in Dead Reefs by your team so that the player will not be stuck with a puzzle for long. How is the balance achieved in setting the difficulty of these puzzles? Without giving out the solution, what is an example of a puzzle in Dead Reefs in which the development team has struggled to find this balance?
- If you compare Dead Reefs with some of our previous projects, like Aura 1 and 2, puzzles are not the main emphasis of this game. Sure there are some puzzles scattered around here and there, but it was not meant to be so that the player would be stuck on a puzzle for hours at a time. The puzzles generally start as easy and get more difficult as the game progresses. An example of a puzzle where we struggled to find this balance is the puzzle with the pigeons, close to the end of the game. It was fairly difficult to come up with the clues (this puzzle is all based on clues) to this puzzle that would not just bluntly give away the solutions.
- Admittedly, the smaller commercial market nowadays for adventure games, as compared to games of other genres, has been a challenge faced by many adventure game developers, particularly in North America. Many prominent studios, such as Cyan and Microids, have fallen prey to the dwindling commercial marketplace and faced shut down (though both companies have been revived recently). What are the common business mistakes an adventure game developer may make in the current marketplace? What have you done to avoid making such mistakes running Streko-Graphics?
- Adventure games are targeted for a particular type of audience. Of course when your average person walks into a game shop looking to buy "some game" to prevent them from "being bored", they are more likely to pick up a shooter rather than an adventure game. The only way that a company can successfully compete in the adventure game industry is by trying to make something original. In our opinion we believed that the story of Dead Reefs was pretty original, and worth putting up on the market. But the story itself is not enough; in order for the game to be successfully, one must have a fine balance between the story, the graphics and the controls. We believe that we have more or less achieved this balance.
- Is there any plan to extend the development of your games, particularly Dead Reefs, to other platforms, such as the consoles and handhelds? If so, how? If not, why?
- At this point we do not have any plans to extend the development of Dead Reefs to other platforms. But this could all change, depending on how the game does in terms of sales. If there is a strong enough interest on the market, our publisher will inform us, and we will certainly discuss the possibility of extensions to other platforms.
- What do you see in the future for adventure games? What evolution or revolution must the adventure genre make to regain the popularity that it has once enjoyed?
- Adventure games have always existed and will always be around. As long as computer power keeps growing (and by Murphy's Law it will) and developers keep coming up with original and creative plots combined with rich graphics and good quality videos, then people will keep buying adventure games. But I can't imagine that adventure games will ever be more popular than say action games. This is probably more of a sociological issue.
- What can we expect from you and Streko-Graphics over the next 5 years?
- At this moment we are working on two projects at once. Without giving away any details (these projects are still in the very early stages of development) one is an adventure game and the other is going to be revolutionary strategy game which we have high hopes for. But stay tuned to our site as we give more details later on.